Self-neglect is an extreme lack of self-care, it is sometimes associated with hoarding and may be a result of other issues such as addictions. A hoarding disorder is where someone acquires an excessive number of items and stores them in a chaotic manner, usually resulting in unmanageable amounts of clutter. The items can be of little or no monetary value.

Practitioners in the community, from housing officers to social workers, police and health professionals can find working with people who self-neglect extremely challenging.

The important thing is to try to engage with people, to offer all the support we are able to without causing distress, and to understand the limitations to our interventions if the person does not wish to engage.

What is self-neglect?

What causes self-neglect?

It is not always possible to establish a root cause for self-neglecting behaviours. Self-neglect can be a result of:

Sometimes self-neglect is related to deteriorating health and ability in older age and the term ‘Diogenes syndrome’ may be used to describe this. People with mental health problems may display self-neglecting behaviours. There is often an assumption that self-neglecting behaviours indicate a mental health problem but there is no direct correlation.

Self-neglect: what are the issues?

People who neglect themselves often decline help from others; in many cases they do not feel that they need it. Family or neighbours can sometimes be critical of professionals because they don’t do anything to improve the situation of the individual. But there are limitations to what others can do if the adult has mental capacity to make their own decisions about how they live.

Sometimes, even when all agencies have done everything in their power to support an individual, they may die or suffer significant harm as a result of their own action or inaction. It is therefore vital that all efforts to engage with and support an individual are clearly recorded.

The inclusion of self-neglect in the Care Act, 2014 statutory guidance with regard to safeguarding focused attention on the issue and led local authorities to develop new approaches to working with people. In some cases, where the adult has care and support needs, safeguarding responses may be appropriate. However, the inclusion of self-neglect in statutory guidance does not mean that everyone who self-neglects needs to be safeguarded.

Safeguarding duties will apply where the adult has care and support needs (many people who self-neglect do not), and they are at risk of self-neglect and they are unable to protect themselves because of their care and support needs. In most cases, the intervention should seek to minimise the risk while respecting the individual’s choices. It is rare that a total transformation will take place and positive change should be seen as a long-term, incremental process.